Feminism’s duty to gay men – a response
Feminism is on your side, but you need to be on the side of feminism, too.
There’s a glaring problem with Hesham Mashhour’s rant, in which he claims: ‘right now misogyny burns me each and every day – like any other woman.’
You know what that glaring problem is? He isn’t a woman.
Thing is, he seems to realise that. He describes an act of aggression against him at a drinking society event (‘a display of proud dominance’) and points out that ‘this would be misogyny if I were female.’
Yes, Hesham. But you’re not. So it isn’t.
The drinking society thing? Yeah, that must have sucked, and of course he has my sympathy. Being groped by a guy in a club (a friend of his, who justified his action by saying ‘But surely you like it – being gay’)? That’s shitty, and believe me, I’ve been there, and from strangers who didn’t care whether I liked it or not and didn’t bother trying to justify their actions.
But he is not a woman, and what happened to him may have been homophobic, it may have been oppressive and disrespectful, but it wasn’t misogyny. You know what is misogyny? Dislike, contempt for, or engrained prejudice against women.
Hesham ends with two claims: ‘Gay men need feminism. And feminism has a duty to them.’ While he might need to brush up on his vocab, he is right in one sense: to the extent that gay men suffer from the harmful effects of patriarchal systems in society, I imagine gay men do need feminism.
One of the central aims of feminism is the breaking down of those patriarchal systems, whether they oppress groups because of their gender, race, sexuality, or other factors (and intersections of the above). In that sense, feminism is there for everyone who is oppressed by patriarchal social orders.
But you know what? That doesn’t mean feminism has a duty to gay men. It means gay men have a duty to feminism. Gay men oppressed by patriarchal systems should be fighting alongside the rest of us to break them all down.
Feminism is for all: come and join in. But feminism isn’t an online shop where you can order liberation tailored to your size- if you expect change which will benefit you, then you need to join a fight to bring that change for everyone.
The fact is, Hesham managed to rant about the links between homophobia and misogyny without once mentioning the intersectional oppression which gay women experience, and some people think that’s misogynistic in itself.
He may be oppressed in some ways as a gay man, but he’s still a man, and therefore a member of a group with the greatest social power, a member of a group which institutionally oppresses women. Gay men may be oppressed in some ways, but they also benefit from the structures which advantage men over women.
If you’re going to argue that feminism has a duty to gay men, you also need to be talking about the widespread problem of sexism and misogyny by gay men specifically which women experience on a regular basis.
Critiquing women’s bodies or clothing choices is supposedly justified on the grounds that gay men don’t personally view them as sex objects, as if your sexual orientation means you aren’t perpetuating the women’s constant subjection to the male gaze. Unwanted groping and harassment is supposedly justified on the ground that ‘It’s fine, I’m gay!’ as if wanting to have sex with someone is a prerequisite for your actions being misogynistic.
You need to be talking about the things gay men, as a group, can do to help members of other oppressed groups. You need to recognise your privileges, and the position they give you from which you could fulfil your duty to feminism, even as you demand from feminism what you feel is rightfully yours.
You need to be making the most of the fact that, as Patrick Strudwick points out, ‘Men’s voices are not exactly going unheard.’ You need to be calling out your friends when they make sexist comments or perpetuate harmful patriarchal standards, even if they don’t affect you particularly as a gay man.
So yes, gay men need feminism. But that means they have a duty to feminism- they have a duty to think about their own sexism, their own misogyny, their own perpetuation of harmful standards. They have to think about their own positions of privilege as well as the ways they are oppressed. And then they should come and help the feminist movement.
We’re all in this together, cheesy as that sounds, and you’re not going to get anywhere by making demands for yourself.